At a special meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) today in Ieper, Belgium, commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the first large-scale use of chemical weapons during World War I, the 190 States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention issued a declaration reaffirming their commitment against chemical weapons.
The “Declaration on the Occasion of the Centennial Commemoration of the First Large-Scale Use of Chemical Weapons at Ieper” (“Ieper Declaration”) reaffirms the role of the Chemical Weapons Convention as a bulwark against chemical weapons and condemns their use under any circumstances by anyone.
The Declaration also makes reference to holding accountable those responsible for the use of chemical weapons, and ensuring that non-State actors never obtain chemical weapons.
The Ieper Declaration was read out at the meeting by the Chairperson of the OPCW Conference of the States Parties, H.E. Ms Vesela Mrđen Korać, Permanent Representative of Croatia to the OPCW.
Addressing the gathering, the Director-General, Ahmet Üzümcü, said, “The Ieper Declaration serves to bolster what is now a longstanding global norm against chemical weapons. It will guide our efforts as we hasten progress towards a world truly free of chemical weapons.” Ambassador Üzümcü underlined the importance of making the remarkable gains in chemical disarmament permanent by preventing new weapons from being built. He also emphasised the need to obtain universal adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The commemorative meeting was also addressed by the Minister for Defence of Belgium, H.E. Mr Steven Vandeput, Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ms Virginia Gamba, representatives of Member States of the OPCW from the five geographical regions, and the Mayor of Ieper, Hon. Mr Jan Durnez. A copy of the Ieper Declaration was presented to the Mayor by the Director General for public display in Ieper.
Additional commemorative activities by the OPCW at Ieper included an unveiling of a plaque dedicated to the victims of chemical weapons in World War I, which will be permanently mounted on the wall of the town’s historic Cloth Hall. Further, in keeping with longstanding tradition, a Last Post and wreath-laying ceremony was held at the Menin Gate in honour of all victims of chemical weapons. An OPCW exhibition highlighting important events in the history of chemical disarmament was opened at Ieper’s Souterrains. The exhibition will be open to the public for three weeks during the Ieper centennial commemoration.
Video recordings of all commemorative activities can be viewed here.
On 22 April 1915, chlorine gas was deployed for the first time in a large-scale attack near Ieper, killing and injuring thousands of soldiers. Chemical weapons were subsequently used throughout World War I, resulting in more than a million casualties. A global ban against them – the Chemical Weapons Convention – came into force in 1997.